And Lazarus Came Forth
John Darlington Johnson reflected the night
eddying around him in this treacherous flight
from the torment of shame. It had besmirched his name,
quietly submitting to masters, who came
easily to notions that birth had fixed status,
daring unfortunates to change the apparatus.
Betrayed before kidnapped, smuggled into slavery,
had it not been for others needing his bravery,
(entrusted protection as royalty traveled),
when treachery struck and his world unraveled,
he'd have died on the spot, the struggle still brewing,
no thought to himself or concern ensuing.
But duty and pride made him lay down his arms,
submit for the safety of those soon on the farms
of a land to the west, that gobbled the black man,
injesting, digesting all an insatiate can.
There they'd be taken, survivors half-dead,
the pampered privileged made property, instead.
Protection meant something in the hold of a ship,
in pens, and stockades, nights after the trip,
herded in quarters, taking turns to lie down,
fighting for rations, keepers pitched on the ground.
On the block, at auction, nothing he could do,
but this once fate smiled, Darlington got the crew.
As plantations went, Darlington was the best,
profitable, progressive. Many a famous guest
exalted the locale, its beauty and cusine,
royalty, the Johnsons, especially the queen.
But cotton was king, demanding, merciless,
pretentious of polite society, nontheless.
Mr. Andrew bought them. Miss Myrtice named them,
face to face, with the aid of old Abishem,
Bantu, too, long ago, entering name and cost
to ledgers of assets, profit's tale, made or lost.
He, royal too, became J. Johnson overnight,
silence his response til the time to make right.
But Time's a poor friend to a slave penned in.
Long days, one after another, the fates send in
no savior, that salvation might be his own hands.
Carefully, patiently, he weighed risky plans.
Persuasive powers time eroded too well,
so alone, free or die, he'd escape the slave's hell.
Not thinking of failure, determined to succeed,
his idea, on the river, nightly to proceed
upstream, not down where searches would start.
Eating fish and frog legs, a master of the art
of whittling, fish spear or frog gig all the same,
with one knife, hook and twine, he must a world tame.
John Darlington Johnson, as black as those nights,
upriver a wet mile at a time, shunning lights,
signs of life, two months to Memphis, made Cairo.
Waterlogged, solitary, past others he wouldn't show,
til he saw by moonlight, a man dark as he,
gigging frogs from the bank where slaves couldn't be.
Stealthily, he watched a black man, carefree,
light a pipe, stroll up a path one could see
faintly. Curiosity compelled him to follow
some distance. A cabin in a cleared hollow,
green garden with its shed loomed ahead. One whole day,
a man of color came and went his own way,
no one to answer to. Could it be he was free,
or some trap? Did he dare risk waiting to see?
In wonder patience grew, hoping to know
if freedom for a slave, could through his spirit flow
as it had. Prince John, on a still, moonlit night,
putting fear to flight, dared to stand upright,
dressed a pauper, splattered rags for his robe.
Another such as he, free as any on this globe,
pioneering spirit, independently proud,
master of his own fate, had freedom allowed.
John Darlington Johnson that night chose a new name,
Lazarus Free, a prince resurrected from shame.
Poems From the Goober Tree http://nathoo.wustl.edu/goober_tree.htm
[This message has been edited by H. Arlequin (edited 11-06-1999).]